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date: 22 November 2019

Rāvaṇahasta [rāvaṇa, rāvaṇasta, rāvaṇahastaka, rāvaṇahatthhaya, rāvaṇhatthā, rāvaṇhattho]locked

  • Joep Bor


[rāvaṇa, rāvaṇasta, rāvaṇahastaka, rāvaṇahatthhaya, rāvaṇhatthā, rāvaṇhattho]

Musical bow and/or spike fiddle, believed to be India’s oldest bowed instrument. The rāvaṇahasta (‘Ravana’s hand’) is frequently mentioned in medieval texts. Called ‘ravanastron’ in European travel and music literature, it played a crucial role in speculations about the origin of the fiddle bow.

According to an ancient legend, Ravana—the mythological king of Lanka—tore out one or more sinews from his arm or hand which he used as strings for the chordophone (vīṇā) he designed. This oral account is first reported in the Paumacariya, the earliest known Jain version of the Rāmāyaṇa which was compiled by Vimalasūri in the 5th or 6th century ce. In Raviṣeṇa’s Padmapurāṇa (677–78) the instrument is called a bhuja (‘arm’) vīṇā. The famous 7th-century Tamil poets Tirunāvukkaracunāyanār (or Appar) and Tirunānacampantar (or Campantar) also mention Ravana’s creation which was strung with a ‘sinew from his hand’. The instrument they refer to was either a musical bow or a spike lute to which ‘half a coconut (...

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